Friday, April 28, 2017

Gerard and Febos Sparkle, Caldwell MIA, BookCourt Closing Bad Vibes

Date: April 20, 2017
Venue: Pete’s Candy Store
Authors: Melissa Febos, Chole Caldwell, Sarah Gerard
Lit Celebs Present: Molly Prentiss
Free Drinks: Yes, I got there before the register opened
Drone-On-Meter : negative
UE check : N/A
It took me forever to write this because I’d planned to mash up a million things. At first, I was going to lead with the brilliant memoirist Chole Caldwell not showing up for her second straight booking in the Pete’s Candy Store Thursday night reading series.
But then I thought that since the other two writers on the bill, Sarah Gerard and Melissa Febos, gave such great performances, why not concentrate on that?
So, yeah, someday Caldwell will be booked again for the Pete’s Thursday reading and she’ll probably show up. Why make myself sound like a jerk complaining about how I rode my bike over the Willy B Bridge twice to hear her with no success?
Before the event started, co-curator Jill Capewell was talking to the sound guy as they were setting up the audio and he said, “Our microphones don’t use any hormones.” Sound guys are the coolest. Jill is no slouch, either. She not only helped set up the sound, she showed co-curator Brian Gresko how to adjust the microphone.

Brian gave a nice intro about how we may be living in a golden age of memoir. He said that the form is being used in new ways and that the two writers reading that night are examples of this blossoming.
I sat next to Schlmo from Seattle. He's a copywriter who might start writing non fiction. We had a nice chat, which is an example of the admirably high congeniality factor that you get at Pete's. It's not one of those reading venues who nobody talks to anybody and just files out like robots when the reading is over.

I tried out my joke with him about how, since I’m so much older than anyone at these readings, if only I took the trouble to dress better and didn’t talk to anyone, people might think I was someone important, a sort of Jonathan Galassi trolling the Brooklyn writing scene. I love the image of FSG head Galassi going to a reading deeper into the borough than Pete’s, say in the basement of Unnamable Books, to visit one of the Manhattanville readings.

I think Schlmo laughed. I've had to retire the "I'm the Harry Dean Stanton of" joke cause nobody knows who the actor is.
The first reader was Sarah Gerard, touring and giving a lot of readings, in support of her new book “Sunshine State.” She said that parts of the book are memoirs, but that it includes other forms including poetry. One passage she read at Pete’s was addressed to a lover or former lover with whom she got complementary hip tattoos. She skipped around in the book and all the selections sounded good.
Melissa Febos read from her second book “Abandon Me.” She mentioned that before a reading in Portland, she and a friend set up a classification system for audiences in which they are either “hickeys” or “criers,” depending on whether they respond to the hickeys or the crying sections in the book.
She pegged those of us in the Pete’s audience as criers and read a section of the book that would appeal to us. Some of the passages she read were lyrical and touching and just as a reading is supposed to do, her performance at Pete’s insured that I’m going to read “Abandon Me.”
In other readings news, somebody told me the closing of the Cobble Hill bookstore “BookCourt” pissed off a lot of authors and publicists because there was no advance notice. The closing of the store last December resulted in a lot of cancelled events early this year.
It’s always a terrible, terrible thing when an independent bookstore closes. Importance of presenting alternate voices, loss to the community, and they’re easier to shoplift from.

One of the blurbs on the Pete's web site says it is the KGB of Brooklyn. While that is true as far as it goes, it overlooks the central role of Lou, KGB's superb bartender, in the LES bar's event schedule. For a readings venue to really rock you need a bartender who has just finished all of "Remembrance of Things Past." But keep trying, Pete's Candy Store, curators Brian and Jill are running a great series even without their version of the sublime Lou.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Smitten With Jimmy Breslin


Date: April 22, 2008
Venue: McNally Jackson Books
Author: Jimmy Breslin
Lit Celebs Present: Ronnie Eldridge, spouse, host of public access TV show
Free Drinks: No
Drone-On-Meter : negative
UE check collect: #276534

I was new in the Bergen Record’s Wayne, N.J. newsroom in 1988. A part-timer working nights, covering meetings mostly, I wrote my stories at the day shift reporters’ desks.

Some nights I landed at Jim Dao’s desk and I briefly registered that it was a shrine to Jimmy Breslin. No votive candles, just Breslin’s books strewn around in the causal disorder that characterized the bureau.

Working on deadline at 10 or 11 pm, trying to parse the details of the Butler Planning Board meeting I’d just attended, I didn’t give Dao’s décor much notice except that as I struggled to sort out which commissioner had said what in my reporter’s notebook, I felt that I was in the right place, doing the right grunt work, and this dayside guy got it too.

A few years later, I’d gone to journalism school and come back to the city to keep working as a reporter, our trade at which Jimmy was the best. I was working for the Chemical Marketing Reporter, writing about price increases in polyethylene.

There was a young guy from Douglaston covering some other kind of chemical. Because he also wrote for a weekly in Queens, he’d somehow wrangled a meeting with Breslin. They had breakfast at a dinner on the Upper West Side. He told me Breslin gave him a lot of advice and that his table manners weren’t the greatest.

My chemical reporting colleague was lucky to score his one on one with Jimmy but like Jim Dao at the Record and so many other reporters, we are all Jimmy’s acolytes. Maybe we couldn’t all be Jimmy, but we could try. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one faced with the problem of finding my own Marvin the Torch or Klein the Lawyer and sticking him into a story about the ’94 autumn increase in polyethylene prices.

To put it mildly, the newspaper business has changed since Jimmy got his start at the Long Island Press. I got caned at a corporate finance magazine in that recession thing of ’08. Even as I suffered the indignity of having to buy my reporter’s notebooks at the Columbia University bookstore, it was still Jimmy’s voice I wanted to emulate.

And even on the mundane topic of where to get your notebooks, the Master had some advice to the rest of us. I remember him being quoted someplace saying that whenever the paper he was working at was about to fold, or he was jumping to another outlet, he made a point of loading up on notebooks from the stockroom of his soon to be former employer.

After I got fired, I started going to a lot of literary readings. Eventually, I figured out that this was my new beat. I try to write for my little-read blog, “In the Front Row, On the Dole,”  with the same Breslin voice, Breslin values, that all of us Irish-American columnists employ. In fact, a masterpiece like Jim Dwyer’s story about 9/11 and Inwood must have been inspired by Jimmy.

When Jimmy’s book, “The Good Rat,’ came out, he gave a reading at the McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince Street in Soho back in 2008.

When my hero popped up on my beat, of course I showed up to review his reading. That’s what my stupid blog is all about. While I don’t have a Marvin the Torch, I do have a Lou the Bartender. He works at the KGB bar where there’s a reading most nights. Lou told me he can tell when a reading is going to have an older audience because he gets all these calls about how steep and how long the stairs are.

Jimmy’s crowd that night at the bookstore on Prince Street might have had trouble with the bar’s stairs, but they turned out in force for his street-level gig.  Half the small audience seemed to go back decades with him. He read an excerpt from the book and then sat around talking to his fans. I knew this was my moment to talk to my hero, to get a quote for my blog, which although it is missing a classified section, a sports section and a lot of other sections, is informed by the work of our Master, this guy from Ozone Park.

I approached my hero and knowing that cheeky was preferable to solicitous, asked him, “If you’re such a big deal writer, how come it’s your wife that has the TV show? He laughed and said, “That’s a good question.”

Podcasts may blossom, papers will continue to fold. Reporters may have switched from the bar to the gym, a development that he lamented. But we will never touch a keyboard without trying to match you, Jimmy.



Monday, December 19, 2016

Madame Realism and Monsieur Lower East Side

Date: November 22, 2016
Venue: 192 Books
Author: Lynne Tillman
Free Drinks: No
Drone-On-Meter : negative
Lit Celebs in Attendance: Fran Leibowitz, Ron Kolm
UE check collect: n/a, benefits long gone

One of the things I look for in setting my readings schedule is whether the event will be crowded. Sorry Salman and nearly anybody else that gets booked at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. So Lynne Tillman’s reading in support of the publication of her latest book “The Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories” at 192 Books two nights before Thanksgiving was ideal.

It was the perfect storm of a well-known author reading on a night when a lot people would be out of town. Plus, I thought the audience would be hard-core readers for whom a performance by Lynne Tillman might well be their main holiday event.  
192 is a small space and Tillman’s fans filled both sides of the room.

Tillman’s Madame Realism is an alter ego she has been using for decades to comment on a number of subjects, most of them visual arts-related. The first appearance of the character was in a collaboration Tillman did with the artist Kiki Smith back when, as the author said, “you could get grants for that kind of thing.”
The engrossing piece she read at 192 was based on her reaction to an installation by the artist Jessica Stockholder. It demonstrated the way that Tillman is rightfully considered a predecessor of writers like Maggie Nelson and Chris Krauss who also use the fine arts as jumping off points for personal investigations.

Tillman’s latest also features stories written in the voice of another fictional mouthpiece, Paige Turner. These stories cover the waterfront from mediations on love to the work of Cindy Sherman.
One of my favorite Lynne Tillman stories I’ve gathered from attending her events, and which is “live only” as far as I know, is her recollection of doing a book tour with Colm Toiben in the north of England. Apparently, Toiben camped out in the back seat and serenaded the driver and Tillman with Joni Mitchell songs. I’d stack that scene up against anything in the David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace movie about a book tour.

Apparently, Tillman’s Madame Realism pieces have been published in different books and magazines over the years, some of the first appearances so long ago that the author had some trouble piecing together the chronology.
Fortunately, Tillman had a live “aide memoire” present in the form of a friend of hers, the poet and fiction writer Ron Kolm. He knew when the early Madame Realism pieces came out, either as magazine articles or anthology pieces.

Whether as a writer, editor, bookseller or publisher, Kolm has been a fixture of the Lower East Side literary scene since he moved to New York in 1970. I found talking with Kolm about books to be a pleasure, not only because he knows everybody and everything, but also because of his unique focus on the physical aspect of books.

He talked about how much he’s enjoyed Tillman’s work over the years. He tried to goose his memory about aspects of her output by remembering whether a particular work was perfect-bound or not. (Perfect bound is when a layer of adhesive holds the pages and cover together.)
Kolm said the best reading he’d been to was one in which he, Tillman, and novelist Patrick McGrath performed at the Ear Inn on Spring Street. He offered the following tip for readings attendees, “You should buy the book and get it signed because it might be worth something someday.” 

There was another man in the audience who Tillman knew. He might have been a painter because she showed him the newly published collection of Donald Judd’s writings that I doubt would be featured at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.
I guess I’m a readings snob because I prefer events at independent bookstores. It’s important that we all support independent bookstores because they play a vital role in ensuring that readers have access to a diverse selection of voices, which is so vital to maintaining a vigorous literary culture. Plus, it's easier to shoplift from them.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Vita Brevis, Ars Unemergis

Brent Shearer’s Reign as City’s Oldest Unemerged Writer Celebrated at AG’s Brooklyn event
Date: October 7, 2016
Venue: Powerhouse Arena
Hosts: Kathleen Alcott, Megan Lynch, Kirby Kim and Katie Kitamura
Free Drinks: yes
Lit Celebs in Attendance: Paul Morris (PEN), Maris Kreizman (writer, tastemaker)
UE check collected: n/a, benefits long gone

Brooklyn, N.Y. (October 8, 2016) – New York City’s oldest unemerged writer, Brent Shearer, gave a short presentation at last night’s Authors’ Guild event in Dumbo. 

The downtown writer explained his career arc to a spellbound audience of about 200 writers, publicists, agents and editors.

Shearer addressed such topics as what it’s like to be an unemerged writer in one’s sixties and for the first time, spelled out the details of his plan to “do a Lampedusa,” the specifics of which have become the New York publishing industry’s No. 1 topic of gossip and mystery now that Elena Ferrante appears to have been outed.

“Doing a Lampedusa” refers to the process by which a writer emerges late in life. Named after the Sicilian novelist Giuseppe Lampedusa, author of “The Leopard,” the phrase has come to mean a writer who produces a masterpiece and promptly dies as the Prince did (Lampedusa was a member of the Sicilian nobility).

Heinz Gault in Austria, Rene Swoon in France, and Shearer are usually considered the major adherents of this career strategy. Compared to Shearer and his European colleagues (Swoon is 67, Gault, 66) a supposed late bloomer like the novelist Nell Zink, who published her first book around 50, is practically a prodigy.

Lampedusa’s biographer David Gilmour wrote, ““The tragedy of Giuseppe Lampedusa was that his period of artistic creativity coincided with his physical decline and death.” For Shearer and his European colleagues, the idea is to match or outdo the Prince by leaving as little time between the publication of their masterpieces and their deaths.

In his remarks, Shearer also touched on some of the lighter aspects of being the city’s oldest unemerged writer. He mentioned the way that in conversations with younger editors and writers, he is often the beneficiary of the advice to ‘keep on writing,” which makes sense when doled out to students and younger writers, but has a different resonance when applied to the 64-year old Shearer.

Shearer is often, despite his unemerged status, asked to weigh in on such career strategies as the often-discussed question of “MFA or Brooklyn.” In another recent public appearance, Shearer addressed the members of St. Catherine’s Classics, a social group for senior citizen parishioners at St. Catherine’s Church, Spring Lake, N.J., on a similar topic, which he called “MFA, Brooklyn, or Assisted Living.” For the record, though he receives no financial consideration from the institution, Shearer recommends the Book Thug Nation Assisted Living Facility in Williamsburg.

One challenge for the geezer ingénue, as Shearer refers to himself and Gault and Swoon, is to keep up with the conversation of the generally much younger writers he meets at events hosted by Word bookstore in Greenpoint, Mellow Pages in Bushwick and H.I.P. Lit in Bushwick (see below).

There are occasional rough patches as when Shearer stumbled into a conversation with one pierced, cropped female readings organizer at a Manhattan performance space. She was wearing a ripped Sleater-Kinney t-shirt. His comment that the band was “more punk than he expected, really like the Clash or something,” exposed two things the would-be Lampedusa would rather have kept hidden: a.  how little he knows about the iconic trio and b. his eagerness to brag and show off his questionable hipness.

Another embarrassing moment for the Social Security recipient was the time he dove into a conversation with a group of young music writers and didn’t realize that apparently, one pronounces Dr. Dre with the last letter sounding like “a.”

In fact, Shearer often feels almost like an erudite perv (Swoon’s phrase which touches on one possible motivation for mature writers making the scene at cafes in Buttes Chamont or Bushwick) when he enters conversations with young writers about the novelist Michelle Tea’s work by saying, “I loved Valencia.”

However, Shearer has learned to draw the line at striking up conversations with younger readers on the subway just because they’re carrying a New Inquiry tote bag. He no longer uses the claim that he wants to be the Mallory Ortberg or the Chloe Caldwell of the boomers in his Twitter profile. His colleagues Gault and Swoon say they have learned to edit themselves in similar ways.

One compensation for the geezer ingénue on the literary circuit occurs when writers bring their mothers to their readings. This offers Shearer a chance to have  a conversation like the one he had with one young author.

Shearer: “I’m hitting on your Mom.

 Author: “Go for it, she’s single.”


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Read, Talk, Dance, Repeat

(H.I.P. Lit principals reflect on the state of the novel in a relatively subdued moment)
Date: December 17, 2015
Authors: Adam Wilson, Amanda Petrusich, Tim Kreider,
Venue:  Hideaway Lounge, Be Electric Studio, Bushwick
Free Drinks: yes
Q & A – no
Unemployment check # -- benefits long gone

 I went to a reading in Bushwick last week and a party broke out. Or was it a party at which novelist Adam Wilson, music writer Amanda Petrusich and humorist Tim Kreider read their work?
If it was a party, it was a good one. Most of 30 or so people there knew each other, but even people like me, who on the face of it don’t have a ton in common with these Bushwickers, were made to feel welcome. Full disclosure: I don’t even live in Brooklyn.

Novelist and Wyckoff Star coffee shop manager Paul Rome curated the event. The writers are all friends of his and he introduced them by reading passages from their work. I talked with Paul after the reading and we agreed that the MC at a reading shouldn’t read their own writing. If you want to promote your own work, start a magazine, but it looks shoddy at a reading.
The reading was sponsored by H.I.P. Lit, which is Erin Harris, Brittney Inman Canty and Kim Perel. Erin and Kim are literary agents and Brittney is also a publishing industry veteran.

As is the case when any three readers or writers come together, there is no denying that H.I.P. Lit has a strong theoretical base. I was able to track the influence of Derrida, Barthes, Bloom, the nouveau roman, the new criticism, the new journalism and Cyndi Lauper (“Young Professional Women Just Want to Have Fun”) in the presentation of their event last Thursday in the Hideaway Lounge, a small room in an upstairs corner of the cavernous Be Electric video production studio.
Erin stated this last theme, fun, before handing the event over to Paul. “It always seemed strange that when other readings end, the people just stand up and leave without talking to each other,” she said. Indeed, part of the H.I.P. Lit manifesto reads “We’re making Lit Parties fun again because reading and dancing are not mutually exclusive.”

The first person I talked with was Tony, Brittney’s husband. He said he wanted to write children’s’ books. I think he struck up a conversation with me cause I was sitting there looking, in the poet Frank O’Hara’s phrase “as ill at ease as seafood.”  In truth, I’d had groupie-like conversations with Amanda and Adam at previous readings, but I hadn’t been out to Bushwick for ages.
Later on, one of the H.I.P. principals said Tony had done all the carpentry work on the Hideway Lounge. She said the wood that he hammered together to give the space its hunting lodge look was all collected on the neighborhood’s streets. My conclusion: the H.I.P. Lit reading series is so good it features not only superb writers, but also locally scavenged fixtures. Match that, McNally Jackson.

To introduce the first reader, Amanda Petrusich, Paul read a passage from her book “Do Not Sell At Any Price.” If a worshipful reader like me had to blurb Amanda’s book, he might say it is about her journey into the world of ’78 record collectors. But the depth and range of the topics it tackles goes way beyond that. Suffice it to say that it belongs on your bookshelf next to classics like “Mystery Train.” And even that book’s iconic author, Greil Marcus, never pursued a story by going skin diving in a frozen Wisconsin river as Amanda did.
At the Hideaway, Amanda read her essay from the about “The River,” Bruce Springsteen’s fifth album. The fact that the “Boss” still has some relevance to Bushwick writers and readers speaks for itself, I suppose. As a performer and an interpreter of early 60s AM radio, he’s great. And there’s no doubt that as Amanda describes him, he is “the chocolate lab” of the crop of new Dylans. Probably it is best to leave my Bruce Springsteen issues, my ambivalence, for another place, but my point here is Amanda killed.

Next up was Tim Kreider, who wore a suit and managed the difficult reading feat of punctuating his reading by sipping whisky and making it seem un-stagey. He gave the audience, seated not in a grid, but in chairs and sofas around the small room, the choice of hearing an unfinished piece or something he was more confident was good.
We chose the new piece and Tim drew a lot of laughs with his story about a professor who struggles to balance his lechery with his professional duties as a teacher at a womens’ college. One line of his was “I believe you should have as much sex as possible while you’re alive.” As funny as his reading was, it also talked about the more serious topic of how someone can be a nice guy and a prick at the same time.

Adam Wilson continued the trend of reading new work as he read a passage from an upcoming novel, which he said he’d been writing for four years. Once again, the Hideaway crowd was in stiches as he read what he described as a prequel to his characters’ divorce story. In what was, in a way, a nod to the intimacy of the H.I.P. Lit event, Adam said he’d named his rapper character, Web MD, after Amanda’s husband’s workplace.
After the reading, I heard there were plans to play some Bruce Springsteen. I left, considerately, before the dancing broke out. Whether they celebrated ’57 Chevys and Madam Marie or Hotline Bling, novelists or Pitchfork’s finest, H.I.P. Lit made a convert out of me. I want to be their Harry Dean Stanton.

Read, Talk, Dance, Repeat

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sam-Sam Takes Literary New York By Storm

Date: February 14, 2013
Author: Jon-Jon Guillian
Venue: Idlewild Books
Neighborhood: Chelsea
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- 1245673

“And here’s this super cool, tattooed, 3 percent body fat guy who wants to be your friend and talk about books” – NY Times – profile of literary sensation Jon-Jon Goulian

Wylie said he’d give me one more chance. I don’t want the shots. The skirts aren’t so bad, I just hope no one from my cell in the French Resistance sees me in this get-up. There’s no point in going on, in going on to the tattoo shop. Yet I must, I must go on to the tattoo shop.

Super-cool, me, Sam Beckett, sorry, Sam-Sam, well, New York City is the place where, no, no, the Lou Reed line Wylie told me to use is “I wish I was handsome and straight.” Is that from “Walk on the Wild Side” or did I pick it up when I was wearing trousers, maybe, at the Durr mantelpiece in Dresden when Sam-Sam was so much older, I’m younger than that now. Wylie said to only use that one on geezers. Also told me my Geezer Ingenue schtick would be too subtle, go with Sam-Sam.

Lady Gaga still hasn’t friended me. Good picture of Lila kissing me in the Times. Note to self: more kisses received when you actually buy the author’s book at readings. Goren Whine, still chilly. Was it the joke about his skinny tie? All these publications with Paris or New York in the title, no wonder Sam-Sam gets muddled. Or maybe it was the E. If this plan of Wylie’s to finally get me over the top works, my next project is going to be making some drone-y, repetitive music to go with that E stuff.

Went to the Sunday night fiction series at KGB. Wylie says that Sunday nights there, for Sam-Sam, between the end of the reading and the start of Chris Jacobsen’s movie series is like the era between the invention of the pill and the onset of Aids for the straights. Whatever that means. Do know there were only three New Yorker writers there so all that verbal diarrhea and spasmodic dancing in the corner under the pictures of the Ukrainian nationalists was wasted. Wylie says you have to have at least five for a dickwad or some other Yiddish word that means, more or less, quorum.

Bit where somebody asks me what I’ve been up to and I use the hand signals Wylie showed me, up and down motion for masturbation, which is apparently endlessly fascinating to these Yanks, and the pen in the hand motion that describes all the writing Joyce has been doing for me. Trouble is, when I do the pen in hand motion, am always handed the check.

Wylie keeps pushing me to use steroids, to take the shots, to tackle my percentage of body fat problem. Says it’s OK, because the readers are all on the stuff, too. I dunno. Maybe this Sam-Sam routine is my last shot. I’m down with the skirts and heels, even these annoying sunglasses that make me look like a matron from Boca Raton, but Sam - Sam draws the line at these shots in the ass .Wylie says all the other writers who started out with the name Samuel used them to break through. Ask Lipsyte when he friends me back. When I was just Sam Beckett, I hung out with Lance Armstrong, you know when the Tour de France meant just a bike race, not our underground railway stations to outrun the Gestapo. Lance - Lance, sorry, Armstrong told me he wished he hadn’t used the stuff, gave him a big boil on the butt. Does Lady Gaga use? Did Sam - Sam Johnson?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nutcracker Yes, Sodomy No !

Date: February 9, 2010
Author: Tony Bentley
Venue: KGB bar
Neighborhood: East Village
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- 1245673

On my way to Toni Bentley's reading at KGB , I stopped at the McNally Jackson bookstore to buy a book of hers for my daughter's sixteenth birthday. Nicole, my daughter, is a ballet dancer.
I was looking for Bentley's first book, "Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal." It is an account of Bentley's time as a dancer with the New York City Ballet. I told the clerk I needed a copy of "Winter Season" for my daughter's sixteenth birthday. He looked it up and then said, they didn't have it, but perhaps I'd like to substitute another book of Bentley's called "The Surrender." The subtitle of "The Surrender" is "A Erotic Memoir," but maybe that didn't come up on the clerk's screen. What I knew, but that he presumably didn't, was that "The Surrender" is a book-length paean to the pleasures of anal sex for women.

I did an impromptu routine at the bookstore's counter for the two employees and a few customers behind me in the cash register line on the inappropriateness of buying a book about the pleasures of anal sex for my daughter on her sixteenth birthday.

Then I went to KGB. When Bentley finished reading from a collection of her more recent work, I told her the story. She laughed and said it might not be too long before my daughter might be interested in "The Surrender" as well as "Winter Season." Maybe so, but the less I know about that, the better. I found a copy of "Winter Season" for Nicole's birthday present at another independent bookstore.